Le Pen Italy
An armed French police officer stands guard at the Franco-Italian border to check vehicles and verify the identity of travellers in Menton, France, 13 February 2017 Reuters/Eric Gaillard

In June 1940, brave French soldiers managed briefly to stop a Fascist division along the Franco-Italian border, on mountainous terrain but not far from the coast. Yesterday (13 February), close to this very bunker, Marine Le Pen held the second part of her speech, the first part having been pronounced at Promenade des Anglais in nearby Nice. "Tougher border controls need to be reinstated, because up until now very little has been done. Italy must do its bit and stop its servile adherence to EU diktats."

Marine, as her supporters call her, has now changed tactic and is aiming her rhetorical guns at Italy, calling it "supine". In the afternoon, right on the border, but still within France, she declared that: "You can't secure national safety if you can't protect your own borders".

The presidential candidate reinforced her tough message by adding that neutralising the Schengen treaty wasn't enough, and although the border shouldn't be closed, "we need to police [the area] a lot more."

Italy's role? "They need to immediately identify who's landed [on Italy's shores] and distinguish between asylum seekers and those to be repatriated." In sum, according to Le Pen, immigrants shouldn't get anywhere near the French border in the first place.

Responsibility isn't something our countries like sharing these days. Theresa May's government has recently come to epitomise this widespread selfishness by rejecting 2,650 children from war-torn Syria, whom the UK had previously agreed to welcome.

And while Europeans have now become all too familiar with the chilly winds blowing from the once legendary liberal British Isles – how many people emigrated there to feel free, not for the money, we will never know – disputes around how to sort out the massive immigration waves are still battering the EU.

Some like Le Pen have made cunning use of the too many mistakes made thus far. Swapping the highly successful Mare Nostrum scheme deployed by Italy in the Mediterranean with the criminally botched and embarrassingly ineffective EU Frontex operations was bad enough. (In this sense, and not the one Le Pen implied, Italy did show excessive deference. Why suddenly stop its great humanitarian efforts to be told by Brussels what works best in the Med?)

Subsequently, wasting billions for Turkey to stem the flow of desperados – Syrians are having a hard time there too – was just like shrugging one's shoulders.

People die crossing borders. Within our own countries, people get bullied and brutalised for having a different skin colour.

And to think that up until recently, all Europeans, northerners and southerners alike, had always emigrated en masse all over the globe. We should be consummate experts on immigration issues.

In fact, this shouldn't be an issue at all; and yet it still is, because it serves as political ammunition. It should be sorted out, it could be sorted out, but some, like Le Pen, need things to stay as they are, otherwise they wouldn't have anything else to beef about. The status quo suits them just fine.

Le Pen Nice
French National Front leader Marine Le Pen (C) and presidential election candidate walks on the Promenade des Anglais, in Nice, France, 13 February, 2017 Reuters/Eric Gaillard

That being said, it's also worth noting that Amnesty International has recently put together a report on all the information from volunteers helping migrants. The news is shocking. Apparently, the French police is nonchalantly – and illegally, as this infringes official agreements – sending migrating minors back to Italy, yet it should be France's responsibility to look after them once they've crossed the border.

In all her tactical fine-tuning before the April and May vote, rancorous Le Pen missed, however, two big points: Italy isn't dominated by the EU; Italy, thankfully, is the EU. It's a pillar country. But more importantly, you don't stop a few criminals (she brandishes Isis as a convenient rhetorical weapon) with a venomous, sectarian narrative without eventually morphing into a criminal yourself.

People die crossing borders. Not just that: within our own countries, people get bullied and brutalised for having a different skin colour. The shocking assault in a Parisian police station two weeks ago was quite telling.

The words uttered yesterday on the Franco-Italian border, a highly symbolic one, where the French nearly stopped the rowdy and lawless fascists in 1940, shouldn't be easily dismissed – today, history is travelling in the opposite direction.


Alessio Colonnelli is a freelance journalist who has written for Open Democracy, The Independent, Foreign Policy and Politico Europe